Beyond Cross-Language Transfer: Reconceptualizing the Effect of Early Bilingualism on Morphological and Syntactic Processing
Li-Jen Kuo

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Northern Illinois University

Primary Discipline

The proposed project aims to examine increasingly critical, yet under-researched, theoretical underpinnings regarding the way early experience in two languages shapes children’s metalinguistic development. The project will look beyond the prevalent cross-language transfer view and investigate how early bilingualism shapes the language acquisition mechanism with an alternative conceptual framework – the cognitive flexibility theory. It follows from this theoretical view that early bilingual experience leads to elevated cognitive flexibility, and thus bilinguals would show advantages in several aspects of metalinguistic development regardless of the typological affinity of the two languages they are developing. The project will include English-speaking monolinguals, Spanish-English bilinguals and Chinese-English bilinguals. Concurrently examining bilinguals acquiring two languages with different degrees of typological affinity will allow us to distinguish universal bilingual effects from bilingual effects associated with transfer from a specific language. Participants will complete researcher-developed and standardized measures of morphological and syntactic competence. Data will be analyzed in mixed MANOVA and hierarchical regressions. Findings from the study will not only substantially inform theories of bilingual cognition, but also provide educational practitioners with research-based guidelines to design curriculum and instruction that more effectively capitalize on the metalinguistic strengths of bilingual children acquiring languages with different degrees of typological affinity.
About Li-Jen Kuo

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